A Tale of Two Metros

A Tale of Two Metros

Go Bold or Go Home!
Cosmos’s 2025 Predictions

seoul metro expansion plans

worst transit system in the world?

seoul metro

dc metro

dc metro wiki

Seoul and DC opened their subways in 1974. I rode both for the first time in 1979.  Both had about the same number of stations five or six stations on one line.  What a  difference 45 years has made. Seoul has build a world class subway system with over 600 stations stretching over 200 miles, while DC has build five lines and many people consider it to be among the worst subway systems in the world.  I rode both for the first time in 1979 and I have been riding both ever since.  I love the Seoul Metro and am glad that it has become one of the best subways in the world and I am very disappointed at the deterioration of the DC subway system and concur in the opinion that is now one of the worst mass transit systems in the world.

Seoul World Class System in 45 Years

45 years later since opening in 1974, the Seoul city subway has grown to be one of the biggest subway system in the world with 19 lines over 600 station stretching over 200 miles connecting many outlining cities too so as part of one integrated mass transit system. it is fast efficient cheap safe and most people in the soul metro area live within a half a mile of  a station.  there are five more lines being planned and build. By 2025 there will be over 700 stations. The signs are bilingual and all announcements are in four languages and are very clear. Each subway station has a has a TV screen for stop announcements in four languages – Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English  The fair machines operate in four languages as well.  The subway attendance all speak some English and are very helpful and friendly. Every subway stop has clean restrooms. Every station has services and restaurants   a number of stations featuring long underground shopping malls. The metro system makes so much money in renting shops and services  and advertising that the fares are heavily subsided. You can pay by phone, credit card or T transit card. The trains are very clean and people can eat on the train without fear of being arrested. Close to 70% use the train frequently . The trains are safe, violent crime is unheard of, and there has never been a derailment or serious accident. and the trains are repaired quickly, maintenance is never neglected.  Foreign visitors love the system and use it frequently as it is quite foreigner friendly. Ridership at night is quite strong due to newly imposed strict drunk driving laws.

DC Metro a Broken System

Contrast that with the DC Metro.  The DC Metro has five lines about 125 stations and will finally connect to the Dulles Airport next year, 50 years after first planning to extend to the airport. the system was planned before the dramatic development of suburban Virginia and Maryland and the system does not serve the suburban areas very well as the majority of the train stations are in DC, or Arlington county.   Because there is only one tunnel under the river trains to Virginia are forced to use one tunnel making it difficult to schedule trains.  The train are expensive, overcrowded, dangerous and only about 25% of the region are within a one mile walk to the a train stations. there have been a number of derailments, fires, and violent attacks on the subway.  It takes months to repair the escalators which are frequently broken. The stations do not have restrooms or any service and is against the law to eat or drink on the train.  The Subway has just added Wifi,  You can not pay by phone, or credit card.  The loudspeaker system is very poor and most of the time you cannot hear the announcement; announcements are only in English, and occasionally Spanish. The subway fare machines are also only in English.  The cost to use the metro is about 10 times the cost of using the Seoul Metro, in recent years, a number of stations have been taken off-line for repairs.  The attendants are not friendly or helpful. Only ten percent of the public use the metro but half of tourists use the metro. and the metro is confusing and foreigner unfriendly.

What Accounts for the Difference in Outcomes?

What accounts for these different outcomes for systems that were build in the same year?

Political Will to Construct a World Class System in Seoul

First and foremost the Korean government put money, effort and political will into building  a modern world class transportation and infrastructure most of the cost of the metro comes through rental revenues and advertisement income.  Less than 10 % comes from fares because the government subsidizes fares to keep  the cost of using the system very reasonable to ensure larger ridership.

Second in Korea public domain laws are very strong and it is almost impossible to block extensions of either subways or freeway system and there would be no support for blocking construction. In fact there is strong support for continuing expanding the system and five more lines are under planning or construction when the system is completed in a few years it will be perhaps this second largest system in the world.

Third there is no requirements for environmental impact assessments or other regulatory burdens that make it difficult to build public infrastructure in the United States

Forth there is broad public support for Government investment in infrastructure.

Fifth the subway system is managed very efficiently. There are actually four Corporation involved but coordination it’s very well-done and the user does not even know that there are four corporations involved, for the user there is only one system.  Transfers between different lines is easy as there are always underground passageways connecting the different lines.

Finally and most importantly, everyone uses the metro, even the wealthy use the system from time to time,  It is truly a mass transit system for the benefit of the public.

Contrast this with the DC Metro Experience – lack of political will to construct and maintain a world class system

The DC Metro generates about half of revenues through fares,  There is no rental income, but some advertisement income and parking fee income as well. . Keeping fares low was never a priority for the system. There is no dedicated funding.  The system is run jointly by DC ,Virginia, Maryland and the federal government and they don’t often agree on fundamental issues, and no one is really in charge. Lack of funding especially no rental income and marginal ad revenue and parking revenues, has always meant that the system neglected maintenance to the point that they have to rebuild the system station by station  at a very high cost.  The constant construction has resulted in many riders fleeing the system, leading to decreased revenues and the need to increase fares due to the shortage of fare income.  In many respects the DC metro system is a perfect case study of how not to manage a large transit system whereas the Seoul system is a poster child for proper transit system management.

Second although there is support for the Metro among residents of DC there is not that much support in the outer suburbs and congressman from rural areas are hostile to spending tax dollars to support public transit improvements as it does not benefit their constituents.  Due to Gerrymandering and the requirement that each state has two Senators, rural interests are vastly over represented in congress.  Related to this is the widespread feeling that all government spending is somehow bad, and that the private sector will and should solve all problems. The Republican party is also committed to keeping taxes as low as possible especially for the rich donor class, and starving the federal government of needed funds for such things as infrastructure improvements. and will not consider raising taxes today for infrastructure especially mass transit.  There is a wide spread feeling that transit systems should be funded entirely through fares, while freeways should be kept free to users. 

Only Losers Use Public Transit

Since so few people actually use the system, and there is a widespread feeling that only lower class people use the system, there is little political support for the system which is used by other people.  Or as Homer Simpson said once, “only losers ride the bus.” Unfortunately the view is widespread in the U.S.  As a result, US infrastructure has been consistently rated a D- grade by the American Association for Civil Engineering. a

 Government Quit Investing in Infrastructure Starting in the late 70’s 

Related to this the government starting in the 1980s quit making investments in public infrastructure and the cost to rebuild  American infrastructure will exceed $3 trillion. There is no political well to cut bloated defense and national security spending to devote to rebuilding infrastructure nor is there any willingness to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure investments.

Third environmental regulations, legal restrictions and the NIMBY ( Not in my backyard) feeling makes planning and funding infrastructure very difficult.

Fourth the system was not planned out very well there’s no equivalent to the number two line circular line and transferring between stations is difficult . There is one station where two lines come together about a half a mile apart but there is no underground passageway connecting the two lines. When the system was planned in the late 60’s, most people commuted to jobs in the district or in Arlington county.  No one anticipated the rapid development of Fairfax, London and Prince William counties in Virgina and suburban Maryland as well. Thus the stations no longer go where people need to go.

Kissinger Moved the Metro from the State Department Fearing  Some One Would Bomb the State Department

An interesting anecdote is that the original plan  was for a Metro stop under the State Department with an underground passageway to the Kennedy Center .Kissinger felt that someone might blow up the State Department ordered the line to be relocated 3/4 mile away, and  an underground passage way to the Kennedy center was never built. 

The plan station in Georgetown  was block by opposition from mostly white locals who were afraid too many black undesirables would be able to easily get to Georgetown.

Finally because the metro is divided between three states  and the federal government and no one is really charge it is very difficult to manage the system.  This is compounded by the lack of dedicated funding and no rental income. All of which makes it difficult to keep up on maintenance or to expand the system which needs to be done.  The DC metro area has grown to over 7 million people and is close to NYC in population density without the transit and other infrastructure  to support such a large population.

Recommendations for DC Metro

My recommendations to the DC metro system is to ask for dedicated funding, to open retail services in all stations in order to the increase revenues and ridership.  Add restrooms to each station.  Lift the ban on eating and drinking on the trains.  Fix the announcement system and make all announcements in English, Spanish and perhaps Chinese?  make the fare boxes trilingual as well.

Reorganize the system to become the Metropolitan Metro authority with authority over the trains, the bus systems and the commuter railroads. An advisory committee consisting of representatives of DC, Maryland, Virginia, the Federal Government, riders and employees would advise the board.

Expand or Die

The DC metro needs to dramatically expand the number of stations, doubling the number of stations within ten years and expanding the system all the way to Quantico in Virginia and all the way to Baltimore where it would connect to the Baltimore transit system. They also need to construct another tunnel under the river.

the Metro system needs to develop an ambitious plan to double the number of station within ten years including building a new tunnel underground river under the Potomac River and building  two Circular lines, an inner line and an outer line,  perhaps on top of 495, 395 and 295,  (Note: Seoul needs to build an outer circular line as well end note)

. One line would go down to Quantico, going through Ford Belvoir, another line should connect Springfield to Tysons and  a final line should be constructed along Columbia Pike and Little River Turnpike. in Maryland I would build a line along Rockville Pike, and build a line connecting Colombia to Baltimore connecting with the Baltimore metro system.

Visit Seoul for Inspiration and to Learn How to Do it Right

I would recommend sending a team to the  Seoul City metro system to study how they created such a world class metro system and learn from their success. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel and I’m sure the Seoul Metro staff would love to give you the benefit of their success.

the writer, a retired US diplomat living in  Yeongjongdo first rode both systems in 1979 and has used both systems over the years.  He is very pleased at the development of the Seoul system into one of the best in the world, and very disappointed in the deterioration of the DC Metro over the same time period.

additional comments November 22, 2019

Dream 10,236 Metro pet Peeves

My top pet peeves for the DC metro are

  1. not enough stations should be at least double 
  2. no restrooms 
  3. no services.  In Korea, Japan, China the metro pay for themselves out of rental income as every station is  mini-shopping mall, or has offices and housing built on land owned by the metro  A major source of revenue. In DC metro only a few stations are build that way. 

4.   No food or drink on the station

5.   discriminatory enforcement of this rule seems only black and brown teenagers are arrested, white people and foreign visitors are warned

6.   lack of signage advising people to stand on the right, walk on the left

7.   people who don’t stand on the right, walk on the left

8.  lack of connections between nearby stations.  why Farragut West and Farragut North don’t have an underground connection is beyond me.

9. serious lack of signage throughout the system

10. loudspeakers that no one can hear

11. inaccurate signage re next train coming

12.  total lack of communication where they is a problem

13.  constant repair work

14.  why does it take months to repair the escalators?

15.  Why don’t they get rid of the escalator except in a few stations?

16.  total lack of planning for planned disruptions.  Last summer it took four hours to get home from a base ball game because Metro had not provided enough shuttle buses at the Pentagon station.  

17.  total lack of planning for unplanned disruptions.  when that occurs, lots of luck getting on the proverbial shuttle bus that never come

18 god help us if there is a terrorist incident

19. violent disruptive passenger everywhere

20.  muggings at night 

21. coyote attacks 

22.  lack of coordination between different transit providers – it should be one system

23. too damn expensive 

24. too slow

25.  Does not go everywhere

Dream  10, 237 Seoul Metro Pet Peeve

top pet peeves for Seoul metro?

why does the ARA stop at Geoman station only why not go to the airport every time? Makes no sense. 

same thing for the other lines. why not just run them to the end stations? would be a lot easier to do

deceptive signs for bathrooms – indicating that they are on the other door of the elevator only to find that there are no restrooms there

restrooms only available inside the paid area

Dream DC 10,238 Metro Expansion Plans

the DC metro system needs to be expanded perhaps doubled in size.  Here are some of the proposed extensions all of which have considerable merit and should be expedited

One thing that metro should consider and I am amazed that they are not is building on every site commercial establishments making each station a mini-shopping destination.  this would provide Metro with tremendous rental income allowing Metro to pay for most of its expansion without incurring additional costs or tax subsidies and would allow Metro to keep fares low.

such mini-station developments are a key feature of the success of the Korean, Japanese and Chinese metro systems.

Future expansion[edit]

WMATA expects an average of one million riders daily by 2030. The need to increase capacity has renewed plans to add 220 cars to the system and reroute trains to alleviate congestion at the busiest stations.[189] Population growth in the region has also revived efforts to extend service, build new stations, and construct additional lines.

Silver Line[edit]

Main article: Silver Line (Washington Metro)


The new Tysons Corner station under construction next to Virginia State Route 123 in July 2012

The most prominent expansion is the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, dubbed the Silver Line, a 23-mile (37 km) extension from the Orange Line into Loudoun County, Virginia, by way of Tysons Corner and Washington Dulles International Airport. Rail to Dulles has been discussed since the system opened in 1976. The current Silver Line project was formally proposed in 2002 and initially approved by the Federal Transit Administration in 2004.[190] After several delays, federal funding for Phase 1 was secured in December 2008[191] and construction began in March 2009.[192] The line is being constructed in two phases; the first phase to Wiehle–Reston East in Reston, Virginia opened July 26, 2014,[193] and the second phase to Ashburn, beyond Dulles Airport, is projected for completion in 2020.[194]

Potomac Yard station[edit]

See also: Potomac Yard station

In 2008 officials began to explore the possibility of adding an infill station called Potomac Yard in the Potomac Yard area of Alexandria, on the Blue and Yellow Lines between the National Airport and Braddock Road stations. In 2010 the Alexandria City Council approved a portion of the proposed $240 million construction of the station. Construction would start in 2019 and the station is expected to open in 2021.[195]

Unbuilt projects[edit]

Line extensions[edit]

The original plan called for ten “future extensions” on top of the core system. The Red Line would have been extended from the Rockville station northwest to Germantown, Maryland. The Green Line would have been lengthened northward from the Greenbelt station to Laurel, Maryland, and southward from the Branch Avenue station to Brandywine, Maryland. The Blue Line initially consisted of a southwestern branch to Backlick Road and Burke, Virginia, which was never built. The Orange Line would have extended westward through Northern Virginia past the Vienna station, and northeastward past New Carrollton to Bowie, Maryland. Alternatively, the Blue Line would have been extended east past Largo Town Center to Bowie. The future Silver Line was also included in this proposal.[16]

In 2001, officials considered realigning the Blue Line between Rosslyn and Stadium–Armory stations by building a bridge or tunnel from Virginia to a new station in Georgetown. Blue Line trains share a single tunnel with Orange Line and Silver Line trains to cross the Potomac River. The current tunnel limits service in each direction, creating a choke point.[196] The proposal was later rejected due to cost,[197] but Metro again started considering a similar scenario in 2011.[198]

In 2005 the Department of Defense announced that it would be shifting 18,000 jobs to Fort Belvoir in Virginia and at least 5,000 jobs to Fort Meade in Maryland by 2012, as part of that year’s Base Realignment and Closure plan. In anticipation of such a move, local officials and the military proposed extending the Blue and Green Lines to service each base. The proposed extension of the Green Line could cost $100 million per mile ($60 million per kilometer), and a light rail extension to Fort Belvoir was estimated to cost up to $800 million. Neither proposal has established timelines for planning or construction.[199][200]

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced on January 18, 2008, that it and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) had begun work on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the I-66 corridor in Fairfax and Prince William counties. According to VDOT the EIS, officially named the I-66 Multimodal Transportation and Environment Study, would focus on improving mobility along I-66 from the Capital Beltway (I-495) interchange in Fairfax County to the interchange with U.S. Route 15 in Prince William County. The EIS also allegedly includes a four-station extension of the Orange Line past Vienna. The extension would continue to run in the I-66 median and would have stations at Chain Bridge Road, Fair Oaks, Stringfellow Road and Centreville near Virginia Route 28 and U.S. Route 29.[201] In its final report published June 8, 2012, the study and analysis revealed that an “extension would have a minimal impact on Metrorail ridership and volumes on study area roadways inside the Beltway and would therefore not relieve congestion in the study corridor.”[202]

In 2011 Metro began studying the needs of the system through 2040. WMATA subsequently published a study on the alternatives, none of which were funded for planning or construction.[198][203] New Metro rail lines and extensions under consideration as part of this long term plan included:

  • a new line which parallels the Capital Beltway[203]:7
  • a new Brown Line from the Friendship Heights station to White Oak, Maryland, which would pass through the District and Silver Spring[203]:6
  • rerouting the Yellow Line to either a new alignment, or a new tunnel parallel to the Green Line, in the District north of the Potomac River[203]:4
  • a 5-station spur of the Green Line to National Harbor in Maryland[203]:9
  • re-routing the Blue or Silver Lines in the District and/or building a separate express route for the Silver Line in Virginia[203]:5
  • extensions to existing lines, including:[203]:8–9
    • Red Line northwest to Metropolitan Grove (2 stations)
    • Orange Line east to Bowie (3 stations) or west to Centreville or Gainesville (3 or 5 stations, respectively)
    • Yellow Line south to Lorton (8 stations)
    • Green Line northeast to BWI Airport (6 stations) or southeast to White Plains (6 stations)
    • Blue Line east to Bowie (5 stations) or southwest to Potomac Mills (4 stations)
    • Silver Line northeast to Leesburg (3 stations)
  • four inter-line connections to allow greater service flexibility[203]:10
  • several infill stations on existing lines[203]:11

Individual and infill stations[edit]

Before construction on Metro began, a proposed station was put forward for the Kennedy Center. Congress had already approved the construction of a station on the Orange/Blue/Silver Lines at 23rd and H Streets, near George Washington University, at the site of what is now Foggy Bottom station. According to a Washington Post article from February 1966, rerouting the line to accommodate a station under the Center would cost an estimated $12.3 million.[204] The National Capital Transportation Agency‘s administrator, Walter J. McCarter, suggested that the Center “may wish to enhance the relationship to the station by constructing a pleasant, above-ground walkway from the station to the Center,” referring to the soon-to-be-built Foggy Bottom station. Rep. William B. Widnall, Republican of New Jersey, used it as an opportunity to push for moving the Center to a central, downtown location.[205]

The 2011 Metro transit-needs study identified five additional sites where infill stations could be built. These included Kansas Avenue and Montgomery College on the Red Line, respectively in Northwest D.C. and Rockville, Maryland; Oklahoma Avenue on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines near the D.C. Armory in Northeast D.C.; Eisenhower Valley on the Blue Line in Alexandria, Virginia; and the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus on the Green Line in Southwest D.C.[203]:11

Related non-WMATA projects[edit]


Proposed route of the Purple Line

A number of light rail and urban streetcar projects have been proposed to extend or supplement service provided by Metro. Like the Silver Line in Virginia, the proposed Purple Line has been in planning since the 1980s.[206] The project was originally envisioned as a circular heavy rail line connecting the outer stations on each branch of the Metrorail system, in a pattern roughly mirroring the Capital Beltway.[207] The current proposal would create a light rail system in Maryland between the Bethesda and New Carrollton stations by way of Silver Spring and College Park. Such a plan would connect both branches of the Red Line to the Green and Orange Lines, and would decrease the travel time between suburban Metro stations.[206][208]

The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) is a proposed 15-mile (24 km) bus rapid transit line that would link Clarksburg, Maryland, in northern Montgomery County with the Shady Grove station on the Red Line.[209] Assuming that the anticipated federal, state, and local government funds are provided, construction of the first 9 miles (14 km) of the system would begin in 2018.[210]

In 2005, a Maryland lawmaker proposed a light rail system to connect areas of Southern Maryland, especially the rapidly growing area around the town of Waldorf, to the Branch Avenue station on the Green Line.[211]

The District of Columbia Department of Transportation is building the new D.C. Streetcar system to improve transit connectivity within the District. A tram line to connect Bolling Air Force Base to the Anacostia station and was originally expected to open in 2010. Streetcar routes have been proposed in the Atlas District, Capitol Hill, and the K Street corridor.[212] After seven years of construction, the Atlas District route, known as the H/Benning Street route, opened on February 27, 2016.[213]

In 2013, the Georgetown Business Improvement District proposed a gondola lift between Georgetown and Rosslyn as an alternative to placing a Metro stop at Georgetown in its 2013–2028 economic plans.[214] Washington, D.C and Arlington County have been conducting feasibility studies for it since 2016.[214]

Dream 10,239 Seoul Metro Expansion Plans

Some possible metro extensions I’d love to see

extending the gold line to Ganghwa island

extending a line down Ganghwa and over to the airport

extending the Maglev across Yeongjongdo and linking Changha international city and Songdo 

the  uijeongbu LRT Should be extended to Nowon


 A line should be built between Songdo and the International Airport, and Kimpo airport as well

the maglev around the island project needs to be accelerated

the maglev in Incheon city should be operated as a rapid transit line not just as a novelty for tourists.

the ARA should be extended to Muido with the terminus the beaches at the end of the island with two other stops on the island and one stop before Youngju station. The maglev should be extended to the beaches

the maglev should be extended to Songdo. In the meantime a RTB  line should be set up

the planned bridge to Change should be accelerated and include a subway line or Maglev line

the planned bride to Ganghwa should be expanded to include maglev or subway lines

the gold line should be extended to Ganghwa 

Line 3,4,5,6.7, 8 and 9 lines should be extended on both ends

Other possible extensions include extending a line south to Sejong City and Taejon.

Finally an outer loop ring line should be consorted as well linking the end lines of many of the lines





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